It’s no secret that Americans have trouble getting enough sleep. About 35% of U.S. adults fail to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and experts estimate about 50-70 million Americans have a sleep disorder.
That’s a lot of sleepy people.
Due to our internal body clocks, we’re generally at our sleepiest in the early morning hours between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., and again in the early afternoon hours between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. That’s when most people feel an afternoon dip in energy.
One solution for the afternoon slump, and for general lack of sleep, is the “power nap.”
Benefits of Napping
One study compared taking a nap to using caffeine. Naps were found to be more effective in minimizing afternoon sleepiness.
Numerous studies indicate that a brief afternoon nap can reduce fatigue, restore alertness, improve cognitive function and memory, and boost mood – without grogginess or disorientation.
In fact, the research showing these benefits is so compelling, top American companies (Google, Facebook, Uber, Ben & Jerrys, Cisco, etc.) now allow, and even encourage, short power naps during the workday with designated sleeping “pods” or nap areas.
Here’s what you need to know about napping so that you can fully enjoy its brain and body benefits if you choose to make it part of your wellness routine.
3 Types of Power Nap and Which One is Best for You
The benefits that come from napping largely depend on the duration of your nap, research shows.
A brief power nap of 10 to 20 minutes delivers immediate benefits (without grogginess) such as enhanced alertness and concentration, elevated mood, and improved motor skills (like typing at your computer or strumming a guitar). These benefits are experienced immediately upon waking and can last up to three hours.
Virtually any nap under 30 minutes falls into the “light sleep” part of the sleep cycle and is great for a quick mental refresh. A NASA study found that a snooze of 26 minutes showed alertness improvements in pilots of up to 54 percent, and improved job performance by 34 percent, compared to pilots who didn’t nap.
If you nap for 45 to 90 minutes, you will fall into the “slow-wave sleep” part of the sleep cycle, which improves cognitive performance up to several hours but can also cause sleep inertia (grogginess or disorientation) for a short period after waking. Naps of this length also help boost decision-making skills, and tasks like memorizing vocabulary and recalling directions.
This length of nap may have heart health benefits as well. A study found that people who napped for 45 to 60 minutes had lower blood pressure after going through mental stress. Hence, a little shut-eye may help your body recover from pressure-filled situations.
Long naps lasting 90 minutes to two hours will put you into a dreaming state or REM sleep. This type of longer nap allows you to go through every stage of the sleep cycle.
A longer nap can help clear your mind, improve memory, and play a key role in making new connections in the brain. It helps to boost creativity and problem-solving. This is the best nap duration if you’re catching up on lost sleep.
While there are many health benefits to be had from a catnap, there are a few drawbacks.
As mentioned above, if you nap for more than 30 minutes and less than 90, it’s possible you could get sleep inertia, and it may take a while to feel fully alert again. If you snooze for too long or too late in the day, it can disrupt your nighttime sleep, especially if you suffer from sleeplessness or have any serious sleep issues.
Perfecting the power nap is an art. Here are some tips to maximize the benefits of getting midday shut-eye!
- Nap regularly. Some research indicates that the benefits are greater for habitual nappers.
- Try to nap during the ideal time, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., as it’s less likely to disturb your nighttime sleep.
- Keep it short to start. Set a time for 20 minutes or less.
- Choose a quiet, dark place where you won’t be interrupted. Blocking out light will help you fall asleep faster. Wear an eye mask and/or ear plugs if you need to.
- Your body temperature may drop when you fall asleep. Make sure you’re warm enough, but not too warm!
- Be consistent. Nap around the same time each day.
- If your mind is busy ruminating, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
- Don’t worry if you can’t fall asleep; research shows there are even benefits to resting with your eyes closed.
Of course, if you find yourself napping too long or too often, it could be an indication of a health issue. Be sure to consult your healthcare physician.
While napping is a great solution for many people, it isn’t for everyone. Some people just can’t sleep during the day, and that’s okay!
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